Growing green: Dorm gardening brings nature into student living spaces
Sophomore Dylan Nickssaid that when he sees a new leaf coming in on one of the many plants growing in his dorm, "it’s a great feeling."
Nicks and his roommate and plant-partner-in-crime Max Nelson, also a sophomore, wanted to share that feeling with others on UNC's campus. So, last year, the two founded Plant Parenthood, a business that aims to be an accessible seller of houseplants for students on campus.
The Plant Parenthood co-founders are involved in a growing dorm gardening movement. Whether it be owning a plant or two or running a full-scale operation, as Nicks and Nelson describe their setup, dorm gardening can provide a refreshing bit of nature to a space that often lacks any.
"When you first step into a dorm, it's just a blank room, often cinder blocks, and you've got to actually make it what you want to be," Nelson said. "And I think that through introducing plants and through dorm gardening, you can really help make that space your own and make it a space that you want to be in."
And the two have introduced many — rows and rows of plants underneath their lofted beds, they say, with multiple grow lights overtop.
"It’s actually a sight to see," Nicks said. "When people walk into the room, they're taken aback because, you know, a hundred plants under a bed is not what you'd typically expect."
While an operation of this scale may not be typical, there are others on campus with a similar desire to bring nature into their living spaces. Nicks and Nelson said they are often mistaken for another gardener in their building — a "rival," they joked, who has outdoor plants set up on the walkway of his outward facing dorm.
"I think that it shows that there's definitely a want in the student body for more nature and plant life closer to home," Nelson said.
That desire is clear in first-year Arryn Rodriguez’s dorm. They grow succulents and a pepper plant, which they said brings liveliness to their room — and palate.
"The pepper plant I use in my cooking, they're macho peppers," Rodriguez said. "They're around the same spice level as jalapeños. I cook them with my quesadillas that I make."
Mint, basil and small tomatoes are growing in first-year Chris Vasallo’s dorm. He showed his plants under the grow lights and said he likes to pick and eat the tomatoes from the vine. He currently has 30 to 40 new tomatoes growing.
With all of the student demand, Plant Parenthood offers the supply. Affiliated with the organization Student-Made UNC, they are able to host pop-up shops to sell houseplants to students, often in sustainably-sourced pots such as recycled glass containers or bottles.
"We noticed that there was sort of a lack of people that were providing that sort of service on campus," Nelson said. "If you want to get a plant for your dorm, you got to go pretty far away and it can often be cost-prohibitive, especially if you don't have a car. So, we wanted to see if we could help bridge that gap."
Nelson creditedDavis Library as a place on campus that does a good job adding greenery to student life, mentioning its inclusion of plants in the hallways. However, the two believe that University residence halls could include more greenery in the spaces where students like to relax and decompress.
For those looking to sprout some new plant life in their dorms, Nelson said tough plants that can handle a little neglect — like the vine plant pothos or succulents — may be a good place to start.
Nicks was adamant that keeping plants isn’t as hard as it may seem.
"As far as you're willing to go for your plants, you can make it happen," he said. "Plant care is not this mystifying thing. You get light and water, and then you're good to go. It's literally just scheduling your care for your plants. It's all about how much you care about it. What you give in, you'll get back."
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Nicks said he got back a lot from adding plants to his room.
"Plants really opened up the space," Nicks said. "It causes a need for constant light in the room, which is great. It makes people feel more at home, more relaxed in their own space. Also decoration, they look great. Plants, oh my God, they're killer."